chapter  3
17 Pages

Sheroes and Villains: Conceptualizing Colonial and Contemporary Violence Against Women in Africa

Violence against women has been a central concern of the international women's movement over the last two decades. In many countries, violent abuse has been taken up as the most salient and immediate manifestation of women's oppression by men, and in Africa, in particular, widespread violence against women is now probably the most direct and unequivocal manifestation of women's oppressed status. In most societies, rape and domestic violence have on occasion provoked public outrage, but it has been left to women's organizations and movements to take more concerted action. Both the different manifestations of violence that can be considered as gendered and the diverse character of antiviolence praxis can be illustrated with examples from different areas of the developing world. For instance, the most dynamic campaigns in the Caribbean were initially provoked by the common occurrence of rape, the trivialization of which had led feminists to establish the first rape-crisis centers and, thereafter, to initiate campaigns and highly innovative cultural actions. On the Indian subcontinent, sati and dowry deaths have been responded to at least as vchemendy as rape, and it has been rape by government officials that has most provoked the wrath of feminists. African women's campaigns, for their part, have been less movement-based, with individuals and welfare and health groups campaigning against genital mutilation, child marriages, and other indigenous practices.2 Even so, Africans have been surprisingly reticent on wifebeating and sexual harassment, despite their prevalence and the negative effects of both on personal and public life. The widespread harassment and

intimidation of women by power-crazed police and the overzealous implementation of antiwomen decrees and edicts by military forces also needs our serious attention.